In this Essay,I will be discussing the political, economic and social developments in 20thcentury Spain, which led to the Civil War, and to what extent it could have hada different ending. Politically,Spain had been through a lot of changes in the 20th century. Primo de Rivera’sdictatorship came about at the end of the monarchy, which then led to thesecond republic. The Moroccan war in 1921 seemed to highlight Spain’s corruptionand lack of leadership, which led to a coup d’état. There was a need to reshapeSpain, the king called primo de Rivera to replace the prime minister and form anew government. From 1923 to 1930, primo de River was in power. He became anauthoritarian dictator; however, a little bit of stability emerged as jobs werebeing created in industrial production.
Rivera dissolved parliament, banishedpolitical parties, and established censorship. For a longtime, the Spanish empire bought a lot of money into its economy due to theresources it brought in, however in 1898 it saw the loss of its last colony,Cuba, meaning that the Spanish economy would soon start going downhill. One couldsee the social effects of a poor economy, however despite Rivera’sdictatorship, many appreciated his way of being open to all demands of thepopulation. When he came into power after the coup of 1923, public work schemesemerged because of one of his new policies. Some examples would be new railwaysand roads within transport infrastructures, as well as irrigation systems putinto place. One would see this as an essential boost for the economy, howeverinternational banks would have to lend out huge loans, which would eventuallyspell out disaster. The wallstreet crash in 1929 would drag many countries into a vast depression, Spainbeing one of them. Banks had withdrawn their loans, so the economic situationin Spain became very desperate.
Unemployment rates were sky high and industrialproduction was extremely low. The Greatdepression in the 1930’s caused an economic meltdown. Europe was in crisis. TheRoyal family was assassinated in Russia, and monarchies grew fearful in Europe,meaning they would become respectful to figures such as Franco and Hitler. Thisdepression would eventually force the king to abdicate on April 1931, and thisis when Spain became a republic. The Secondrepublic emerged in 1931. After years of frustration; because of social unrestdue to empty promises from the last regime, this was a radical ambitiousprogram.
It was firstly associated with the left, and progressively developed strongernationalist identities. The Second Republic inherited an underdevelopedand indebted country. Society was characterised by extreme inequality.
In termsof social development, poverty and inequality was a huge factor that would leadto one of the reasons the civil war broke out. There was anincrease in socialism, communism and anarchism due to the pull factors forthose experiencing the severe poverty The newregime was seen as a victory, a new start. Spanish anarchists, socialists andcommunists wanted to remove the influence of the Catholic Church from Spanishsociety. TheConstitution also separated the Church and State, and had to face a tensesocial environment. Major reforms were set into place under the republic, witha focus to restructure all of Spain. The introduction of the eight hour day wasestablished, along with reducing the voting age from 25 to 23, and also areduction of officer in the armed forces. Separation of church and state meantthat severe changes occurred against the church for example in regard toreligious education. Moreover,the cleavages in Spain in 1931 such as centre-periphery, state-church, land-industry,and owner-worker would become evident in the 1933 elections.
Class conflictbetween a violent industrial & agricultural elite would be a paramountunderlying cause for the Spanish civil war. In effect, one could say it was arevolutionary class war. An attemptto overthrow the government led by Manuel Azaña in 1932 showed to be a failure,as the army at the moment, was faithful to the government. Essentially, theydid win elections justly, so therefore was seen as genuine. Yet, a right-wing politicalparty named ‘CEDA’ emerged, who’s intentions were to protect authority of theChurch as well as the landlords. The role ofchurch started to reduce after the liberal reforms. Republicans had moreradical ideas on how to reduce the power of the church, such as in educations.There was a military reform, yet the right saw the republic as too ‘radical’;they were bringing too much change.
The military uprising weakened the stateand undermined its ability and that of the republican government to maintainorder. “The coup d’état was transformed into the unprecedented open violenceemployed by the groups that supported and those that opposed it.” (Casanova,2010, p. 149). In the 1933elections the right winged CEDA won. The cleavages became evident with itsslogan “Religion, Fatherland, Family, Order, Work and Property.” The popularfront was formed by the parties on the left whom decided to come together. A numberof violent riots and strikes were planned, for example in 1934 there was ageneral strike in Asturias, however the coal miners on strike were put down bythe army, which at the time was led by Franco.
It appeared that the country washeaded into a mess. A general election was held in February 1936 to save thesituation from getting worse. The popular front won, where Azaña became primeminister again. It was very close, and changes were going to be more dramatic.As the Popular front included communists, they wanted to take over becauseeverybody else did nothing.
They felt stronger and in a position to getmilitary help from Stalin. When communists come into the image and startseizing private property, people start to panic, Business, trade, andtransportation start to break down. It wasevident that the government was struggling with corruption and its ability toact efficiently.
A huge confrontation was on the horizon for Spain because ofthe left and the right within regions, not to mention the number political assassinationsat the time. Sotelo, a right wing politician was murdered in 1936, which waswhen his supporters believed they were in severe danger. The situation was spirallingout of control and the government was losing power.
A military dictatorshipseemed to be a viable option. In 1936 there was a coup involving Africa, whichbroke the Spanish republican armed forces and led the way to the Spanish civilwar. It was the last straw that gave an opening for war to commence. The popularfront planned the coup as soon as they came to power in 1936. Gil robles, Mola,and Franco all favoured the plan. The murder of the admired CEDA leader was thespark for the coup to go ahead.
General Mola was also a key figure in thebuild-up to the civil war. His anti-Semitic character separated Jews fromSpaniards. Division in Spain was not rare at this time. The militarywas run by General Franco, who after overthrowing the civilian government in morocco,took over the country.
Franco then planned to conquer mainland Spain, rid all Spaniardsinvolved in left wing politics, and set up his own military government. Theleft would have to truly struggle for a place in the system In terms ofSocial developments, Spain was bitterly divided due to the areas of the countrywith strong regional or national identities such as the Catalans and the Basques;they would demand more autonomy or even utter independence. The tensionstowards the central government meant that the country was fundamentallyunstable, as negotiation between parties was near to impossible. On aninternational scale, many countries became involved in the Spanish Civil war. A non-interventionpact was signed in 1936 including Germany the Soviet Union, France, Britain andItaly, however there soon was an element of international involvement in thecivil war. For example, the republicans did receive some military assistancefrom the Soviet Union, as well as the Nazi Germany and fascist Italy supportingthe nationalist rebels. The scale of this international situation would affectthe length, advancement and outcome of the conflict.
Neutrality remained with Britainand France, however Britain showed more neutrality towards the nationalistrather than to the republicans. Gaining control of Madrid from the popularfront was the nationalist’s primary aim for fighting. The more internationalsupport, the nationalists would have a greater advantage in the war, and by1939, collapse was on the brink for the republic. To conclude,we must be able to distinguish Spain’s unique situation, however how was itthat other countries such as Germany, who had suffered similar consequences toSpain; from the depression and a failed government, never get themselves intothe mess of a civil war? Spanish society showed characteristics ofpolarization, a predominant factor linked to the causes of the civil war.
forexample, strong religious beliefs and conservative values due to it being astrict roman catholic country for a long time. However, the Spanish Americanwar was when the divisions became truly clear. Evidently, the morale ofthe population was lowered after the loss of its colonies, and consequentlyreflected Spain’s backwardness, especially when comparing it to theprogress of other European countries at that time. Spain recognised their desperateneed for a regeneration. Yet, it was impossible to agree on what kind of changewas needed.
There was a bitter presence of Division, which would divide the Spanishnation even more. Given theeconomic disparities, highly fragmented society, and the anciently entrenched Right,involving even the peasants desiring a war for change, it seems the civil warwas bound to happen. We can notably say that the failure of the Spanishdemocracy is a paramount cause of the Civil war in Spain. Denial and refusal tocompromise between parties meant that no government was able to bring the Spanishpopulation together. There was no respect for democratic laws.
Regional andcentral government tension meant that Spain was profoundly unstable due to lackof not being able to compromise. Regions such as Catalonia and the Basquecountry who demand autonomy or sometimes even independence altogether can also causestrong national identities On one hand,maybe If the socialists won, you’d have had a leftist anti-fascist governmentin power and they would have supported France against Germany. As a result,Hitler probably would have put them on his enemies list and invaded Spain afterFrance in 1940. However, in a speech made be president Manuel Azaña in theValencia city hall in 1937, he said “We are waging war because it is beingwaged on us”. According toAzaña, the backwardness in Spain can be explained by the catholic church. Therewere also complaints that Azaña didn’t do enough to stop the burning ofchurches in 1931. The republicwas indeed forced to fight in a war that it did not start and they knewpractically nothing about.
It was clear a confrontation would arise between theleft and the right as well as between the regions. The catalyst for an all-outwar could have been when the regular Spanish units arrived from morocco ontomainland Spain. The result was to ‘leave half-a-million people dead.’